The First Thanksgiving, This T-Day & Me
Posted November 25, 2010on:
I’m sorry if you expected Pilgrims. This is the story of my first Thanksgiving in La Crosse, not the legendary Pilgrims having dinner with Native Americans.
I was a young reporter for the La Crosse Tribune – barely 22 – and was dating the only other young reporter, Dick Mial. We decided to have our own Thanksgiving.
I purchased a capon – a family preference growing up. But now that I look at the definition of a capon, I’m a little shocked that I would buy such a bird. A capon, according to www.wisegeek.com, is “a castrated rooster. Capons are considered by many people to be a boutique and old-fashioned sort of food, and they tend to have more tender, flavorful flesh as well as a higher fat content. The markedly different flavor profile of a capon is distinctive to consumers once they taste it, especially when the capon has been conscientiously raised.”
I don’t know how conscientiously raised it was; I bought it at A & P, not that the A & P is any more or less conscientious than any other store
But I digress – as usual.
I had this frozen capon in my fridge, planning to cook it on T-Day, or in my case, C-Day.
On Tuesday or Wednesday that week, the city editor came by our desks – yes they were situated next to each other. “Hey kids, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?” he asked.
We looked at each other and, thinking he was inviting us over for dinner, said that we had no plans. He then said, “Great!” and gave us an assignment to go to Thanksgiving in Viola, Wisconsin, about an hour from La Crosse. Someone in Viola had placed an ad inviting anyone who did not have plans for the holiday to come to her house.
So I called and asked if we could join them. We could and I mentioned that I had this capon. She said they didn’t have a turkey so I could feel free to bring it.
With a noon mealtime, decided I would have to cook it overnight – slowly. But first I had to figure out what to do with it. So I called my mom and asked her which end to stuff. She was quite amused.
It is a wonder that anyone survived that meal. I left the stuffing in while it was slowly cooking and while we drove to Viola.
As it turned out, we were the only people who arrived because of the ad in the newspaper. Everyone else was asked personally to come to dinner by the woman who posted the ad.
I can still picture the photo from the dinner. My capon, which looked like it had seen far better days, was caved in. And yet, it was the center of the meal. (That photo is somewhere in the house; if I find it, I will post it later.)
And did I mention that when we cut into the capon, we discovered the giblets still in there? And I am quite proud that none of the guests at the dinner showed up in obituaries within food-poisoning range of time.
The discussion around the table was about the recession of 1974, comparing it with the Great Depression, including the foods eaten in the 1930s when money was so tight.
Dick and I wrote the story together, thinking we would be very clever and name the persons at the dinner through what they said at the table. Despite both of us taking notes, the only quote for one man was, “I like corn mush.” Imagine trying to work that into the story. But we did.
It’s been many years since then. I’ve learned how to stuff a turkey – capons are long gone from our table. The last few years, we’ve celebrated with Maggie’s in-laws because it is their favorite holiday. Why? Because as Russian immigrants, they are so grateful to be in this country.
Last year was the exception – I couldn’t have made it in the midst of chemotherapy. What a difference a year makes.
This year we are at Maggie’s, where a big honking bird is about to be cooked. It’s been sitting in a cold water in the sink to defrost.
Maggie and Michael baked pies, I’ll make kugel and sweet potatoes and everyone else coming to dinner will bring things. Eighteen are expected for dinner, including the in-laws and the in-laws of the in-laws (machetunim in Yiddish. This is one big machetunim Thanksgiving. I just doubled checked the spelling and learned on the web that there is no English word for machetunim but in Spanish it is consuegros and means “co-in-laws.”
It’s a lot to be thankful for, to be all-together, to be healthy and to know which end of the turkey to stuff.
Happy T-Day everyone.